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Skeletal muscle is maintained and repaired by resident stem cells called muscle satellite cells, but there is a gradual failure of this process during the progressive skeletal muscle weakness and wasting that characterises muscular dystrophies. The pathogenic mutation causes muscle wasting, but in conditions including Duchenne muscular dystrophy, the mutant gene is not expressed in satellite cells, and so muscle maintenance/repair is not directly affected. The chronic muscle wasting, however, produces an increasingly hostile micro-environment in dystrophic muscle. This probably combines with excessive satellite cell use to eventually culminate in an indirect failure of satellite cell-mediated myofibre repair. By contrast, in disorders such as Emery-Dreifuss muscular dystrophy, the pathogenic mutation not only instigates muscle wasting, but could also directly compromise satellite cell function, leading to less effective muscle homeostasis. This may again combine with excessive use and a hostile environment to further compromise satellite cell performance. Whichever the mechanism, the ultimate consequence of perturbed satellite cell activity is a chronic failure of myofibre maintenance in dystrophic muscle. Here, we review whether the pathogenic mutation can directly contribute to satellite cell dysfunction in a number of muscular dystrophies.